SALT LAKE CITY — With income tax season underway, the Utah State Tax Commission is warning taxpayers to beware of fraudsters purporting to be federal agents collecting payments over the phone.
Recently, Cottonwood Heights resident Michael Greer, 70, received a call from a person claiming to be an officer from the Internal Revenue Service who left a message about a petition against Greer regarding a tax matter. The message said to contact the officer in order to avoid being arrested and having the matter go to federal claims court.
Upon initially hearing the message, Greer said he was concerned, but after further consideration, he realized he was being targeted for fraud.
"I've heard of this before and thought automatically that it was a scam," he said. "I've learned from watching (the news) about this kind of thing."
He noted that he got a similar call last year around the same time.
"I've had these (calls) before, and at first it's scary," Greer explained. "You think, 'Oh gee, they're coming to get me.'"
He acknowledged that the phone tactics were meant to frighten potential victims, but being singled out eventually made him feel angry, he said.
"They're trying to scare me into giving them money," he said.
The Utah State Tax Commission urges anyone receiving a bogus call from the IRS or any tax agency to get off the phone as quickly as possible.
"The most important thing (taxpayers) can do is hang up. That's the best thing you can do," said spokesman Charlie Roberts. "The reason is because these (fraudster) guys are good. They're virtually all offshore and hard to chase down."
Roberts noted that scammers are sophisticated enough today to clone phone numbers that look official, but are not from legitimate agencies. He added that criminals typically prey on the elderly, immigrants — "where English may be a second language," and young couples who are less knowledgeable.
Scammers sometimes ask victims to deposit money onto a gift card and have the individual read the card number over the phone in an attempt to obtain the funds. Greer said his situation never got that far because he contacted the Utah Department of Commerce soon after getting the call.
Having never had any issues with the IRS or the State Tax Commission, he knew quickly that something was amiss. He noted, however, not everyone is so lucky.
"I know other people would fall for it," he said. For those who might find themselves in similar circumstances as targets of such scams, he had some advice.
"Recognize it as a scam right away," Greer said. "Know that someone is trying to trick you into giving them money."
He lamented the fact the scammers frequently target "old people because we're gullible."
Roberts explained that the IRS or State Tax Commission would not call to notify taxpayers of pending financial matters. Correspondence would only take place by mail, he said.
"We not going to call you out of the blue and say you owe us money," he said. "Neither (agency) will, ever! Or e-mail. We just don't work like that."
Roberts noted that sometimes scammers try to get people to pay relatively small amounts like $200 or $300, or ask for personal information in an attempt to seem less threatening. He said those tactics are just a ploy to lure more potential victims.
"Guess what? We have all the information we need from you. There's no need to ask for that," he said. "All I can say is you can't hang up fast enough (if you get such a call)."